Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wandering Whistler

I think I'll blame our early demise last night on a busy week and the altitude here in the mountains. I couldn't possibly fathom any other reason for why we all headed off to bed around 10 pm. After all, no one else - other than old people - goes to bed at 10 pm while spending a weekend in a resort noted for après ski and always-ready-to-party Aussies?

I'm afraid our basic demeanour didn't automatically jump into a higher gear come the morning either. We did, however, take a grand walking tour around the resort, noting of course that Boo fit right in with the whole bear country vibe.

Our little tour - and our major stop and pig out at Pure Bread Whistler (can there possibly be a tastier bakery in BC?) - required a little side trip to the liquor store. We'd brought along a good selection of wine for the weekend, but I'd discovered, during some morning surfing, that it was Internation Gin Day.

How could we pass on that?! This may be a wine blog but Boo and I are equal opportunity drinkers and martinis are very much a part of our neighbourhood diet.

While perusing the Gin selection in the Whistler bottle shop, I ran across Boodles Gin - one that I've never seen before and I've seen a fair share of Gin in my life. We hunted down some olives and a lime and thanked our lucky stars that I happened to have a set of olive picks in my knapsack.

I guess those "Always Be Prepared" days as a Scout may just have paid off.

Cocktails morphed into wine and cheese and our little balcony proved to be quite handy.

1935.  2011 Familia Zuccardi - Tito (Uco Valley - Mendoza - Argentina)

Little did we know when we grabbed this bottle for the weekend that it was going to be as darn right tasty as it was. Big and juicy, the Tito is a blend of two-thirds Malbec with the balance pretty much split between Cab Sauv and Ancellotta. The last of the three is a grape that originated in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy where its deep, dark colour is popularly used to add colour to lighter blends. I didn't find any information online talking about what the winery believes the Ancellotta brings to the table, but I'm going to keep my eye open for more wines with Ancellotta if they all taste like this one. If you're one for dark, rich fruit with soft tannins, this may just just the wine for you.

It might not be too much of a surprise that we all liked this wine as much as we did. The Zuccardi family - now in its third generation at the winery - makes the wine, as part of its Icon range, to honour the winery's patriarch, Alberto (known to everyone as Tito). I tend to find that, when a winemaker names a wine after a grandparent, there's usually something special to that wine.

We were glad to have the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we did with Miss Jaq - because she's about as tasty a friend as we have.

Unfortunately, that bottle of Tito disappeared far too quickly. The mood was set though. The four of us headed over to one of Boo's and my favourite spots in Whistler - The Mallard Bar at the Chateau Whistler - and we all lounged over the view and our cocktails long enough that we rather forgot about dinner until Miss Jaq and Tanta Luce decided they were too far past needing anything further.

There just happened to be some bakery treats still leftover from Pure Bread back in the suite and they were just as delicious as they looked when we couldn't decide which items to buy over the others.

We may well have still been tired and maybe went to bed almost as early as last night but, at least, we'd put a good day of drinking behind us today.

And, to top things off, I get to add another grape variety to my Wine Century Club tally. Ancellota takes me up to #194. And that'll bring a smile to any day for me.

Now to find some another couple bottles of Tito.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Whistler's All Aussies & Kiwis

Luckily for Boo and I, Miss Jaq had booked a weekend suite up in Whistler to have a bit of naughty getaway with her geographically undesirable paramour. Lucky for us because Mr. G.U. wasn't able to fly out because of work commitments. Along with Miss Jaq's Tante Luce, we were considered to be the next best Whistler weekend warriors apparently.

I'm pretty good with that. Being a high level second choice with Jaq is saying something. Long time readers of the blog may recall Miss Jaq popping up as one of our drinking buddies every so often - that is, when she isn't off teaching in the Middle East or China. So, this girl is never at a loss for options - or excitement.

The two ladies had been settled in for awhile by the time Boo and I were able to leave work and make our way along the Sea-to-Sky Highway up to Whistler. We were, therefore, welcomed with a glass of cool Sauv Blanc on the balcony minutes after arriving.

1934.  2014 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough - New Zealand)

Tanta Luce is a Sauv Blanc gal - almost to the exclusion of all other wines - although she's quick to assert that she's a bit of a piker, standardly buying the cheapest Sauv Blanc that's available and, even then, often watering it down a bit. It's only fitting that we upped her game a bit with one of the classic leaders in Kiwi Sauv Blanc.

We allowed her an ice cube in her glass though.

After a few nibblies and treats - like the Dutch sausage that Tanta Luce brought along - we decided to take a wander through Whistler Village and see if anything looked appealing for dinner. We ultimately opted to go with the "grab a pizza and take it back to the suite" route but, by the time we'd finished off our 'za, the toll of the week, all the catch-up conversation and the drive had taken its toll and we all turned in early.

Determined, of course, to be a little more extravagant with our "resort" activities in the day to come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Celebratory Tantalus Dinner

Being members of both the British Columbia and the Australian Wine Appreciation Societies, Boo and I get the opportunity to attend at least a couple winemaker dinners a year. There are very few dinners that have succeeded in getting my juices flowing as much as the promise of combining Tantalus wines with Hawksworth cuisine. Not only is Tantalus one of my favourite BC wineries but I can definitely say that I'm not a regular at Hawksworth, one of Vancouver's most celebrated restaurants. In fact, I've only ever been there once before and, if memory serves, it was for an AWAS dinner.

The dinner was being held in celebration of Tantalus' 10th Anniversary and it certainly lived up to expectations. Boo and I were particularly fortuitous in that we were seated in direct proximity to winery principals David Paterson (winemaker), Jane Hatch (general manager) and Warwick Shaw (vineyard manager). Opportunities to discuss the nitty-gritty of wine and winemaking with such seasoned hands are rare occasions for a piker like me.

I found the conversation riveting but the food and wine wasn't too shabby either.

The courses revolved around dungeness crab, sablefish, risotto and duck breast - any one of which could be a pick of mine off of any menu. Add a bit of wine to these tasty morsels and the evening was set.

The Tantalus gang poured a mix of new and old that was worthy of the anniversary celebration. Starting with a 2010 Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut during the reception gathering, we settled into dinner with two mini-flights of Riesling. The dungeness crab, avocado and grapefruit salad was accompanied by a 2005 and 2014 Riesling. I can't recall having tried such an aged Okanagan Riesling before. Indeed, I doubt many local wineries would want to try ageing their Rieslings to such an extent. Although many see this label as Tantalus' more approachable - or heaven forbid the term - entry level Riesling, it held its own against the fresher, current vintage.

The sablefish saw '08 and '12 pouring of the Old Vines Riesling - a BC Riesling that likes food if ever there was one - and the richness of the fish just killed it with the acidity of these babies. My glasses seemed to be empty far too soon. I'm sure I must have been short-poured.

A roasted cauliflower risotto was paired with the 2010 and 2012 Chardonnays and the duck breast - surprise, surprise - saw two Pinots (again 2010 and 2012) alongside. I've generally been drawn to Tantalus for their Riesling but the Chard and Pinot Noir are definitely showing signs that they are developing into contenders as well as the more recently planted vines start to see more age on them.

1933.  2014 Tantalus Syrah Icewine (Okanagan Valley VQA)

As has been my habit with the blog, I only add one wine to The List at these dinners since our table or small gang never polishes off an entire bottle of any one wine - as much as we might like to. So, tonight's wine for The List is one that I'm not sure I've even tried before - let alone have in our cellar.

I may be adding the Syrah Icewine to The List but we were actually tempted by a pouring of an aged 2005 Riesling Icewine as well. Thankfully, there was no call for a straw poll to see who favoured which over the other. I'd have been hard-pressed to pick. One thing was clearly evident though and that's that Icewines can still pack plenty of punch after a decade's ageing. A hallmark of fine icewine is that there still be plenty of acidity in the wine so that it doesn't become cloyingly sweet. The '05 was certainly an unctuous sip, yet it still didn't veer into pure sweet as its acidity must have waned over the last decade.

All told, this was a winemaker's dinner for the ages. I'll have to mark the 20th Anniversary dinner in my calendar as soon as they announce one.

As we would have liked the whole experience to continue, the next night, Boo and I opened a bottle of the 2012 Tantalus Rosé. I'm not adding that bottle to The List though as we'd already polished off a bottle and it sits on The List at #1659.

Thankfully, whether there's a List or not, I know there'll be plenty more Tantalus wines filling my glass down the road.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Red Rooster Chardonnay

One of the bigger issues I face when picking a wine for dinner is "Have we already opened a bottle of that vintage and I have I added it to The List?" I have to be particularly wary of wineries - like Red Rooster - that play are predominant role in our cellar. Having been involved for many a year with Red Rooster's Adopt-A-Row program, Boo and I have quite the array of their wines.

I'm guessing that, when I've polished off the 2001st wine in this Odyssey, I'll find that there are going to be more Red Rooster wines on The List than wines from any other winery. As such, I was glad to find that tonight's bottle hasn't already been added to The List. There's an '04, an '09 and a '10 Chardonnay but this 2011 vintage hasn't shown up yet.

1932.  2011 Red Rooster Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley VQA)

For me, one of the hallmarks of Karen Gillis, Red Rooster's winemaker's, Chardonnay is that she doesn't overplay the oak card. While there's been some oak ageing evident, it stays in background leaving the fruit to shine - this is a good thing in my books.

That being said, however, this wasn't a favourite of mine when it comes to Karen's wines. I found it to be lacking in acidity and the fruit wasn't as noticeable as I remember from past vintages. It didn't strike me as being on the same par as the 2009 when that wine was named one of the Top 10 Chardonnays in the 2011 Chardonnay-du-Monde competition - out of over 900 entries that year.

Just goes to show you that the circumstances surrounding the terroir, the vintage, the winemaking and even the circumstance surrounding your tasting of a particular bottle play such a big role in how enjoyable an individual wine can be.

Despite this bottle's underwhelming cachet, I know there'll be plenty more Red Rooster bottles being poured in our household in the years to come. I'm going to be glad, though, that I won't have to be concerned about whether I've already polished off any certain vintage. I'm rather looking forward to that aspect of drinking whatever I fancy - regardless of its presence on The List.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Little Cork Taint with that Chianti?

I've got to admit that, throughout this Odyssey and its 1900+ bottles so far, I've been very lucky in that I haven't run across many bottles that I'd considered spoiled. Due to my lack of control when it comes to buying the odd bottle here and there (hence the now infamous "No Buy Leash"), Boo and I have amassed a rather substantial cellar (or shall I say collection of wine fridges, closets, crawl spaces and bathtub - yes, bathtub - since we don't have an actual cellar).

With all those bottles, we know that some of them are somewhat past their "best before" date - particularly when you consider that most wines aren't made for ageing nowadays.

Even if some of our wines might have shown bigger fruit or oomph a few years before we opened them, I can't remember many bottles that were actually corked. Until we opened this one.

1931.  2007 Rocca delle Macie - Chianti Classico Riserva (Chianti Classico DOCG - Tuscany - Italy)

I don't buy a whole lot of Chianti. As I've written many a time on this Odyssey, for me, most of the Chianti that I commonly find in our market is rather insipid, commercial wine that doesn't give me much of a thrill. With that starting point, I was quite looking forward to this bottle. I'd run across it at one of the Vancouver International Wine Festivals and I grabbed it as it was far bigger and more flavourful than most of its cousins that I'm more familiar with.

There was no doubt - even after one sip - that the bottle was corked. The nose was definitely off to my preference but I was prepared to give a benefit of the doubt. It was always possible that this was some weird Tuscan earthiness that was being expressed as terroir. Even if that was the case with the nose, the wine tasted of a terroir that I wanted nothing to do with. More of a note of landfill or mouldy jockstrap - not that I really know what either of those taste like.

Normally, when at a restaurant or event, I quite like being the one to identify a corked wine. Not at home though, especially with an older wine. There's no chance of taking the bottle back to the wine shop or winery when it was a one off in the market so many years back. There's not a lot of pleasure or pat on the back in that scenario.

If there's to be a silver lining to this bottle, it would have to be that Italy is going to be the theme region for next year's Vancouver Wine Festival. Maybe Rocca delle Macie will participate again and I can see what the wine was really supposed to taste like.

Until then...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

SpierHead Rosé Foray

One of the constant topics mentioned in any general blogpost, article or fact sheet about the BC wine scene is that there is a perpetual parade of new - and even newer - wineries. The latest count has increased to over 300 wineries in the province. I'm likely exposed to as many local wineries as the next guy and I can't come close to keeping up with all of them - let alone try or be familiar with all their products and directions.

SpierHead debuted on the scene when it was named Best New Winery in 2012 at the BC Wine Awards. Even with that admirable arrival and a couple of years under their belt, I knew very little about them until we met with proprietors, Bill & Marina Knutson, for a tasting and tour during last year's BC Wine Appreciation Bus Tour. I picked up some of the winery's stellar Pinot Noir at that time to lay down but, then, I was reminded of SpierHead during the recent BCWAS Gala 10th Anniversary Tasting. I picked up some of the Rosé at that time and figured I didn't want to wait to give it a try.

1930.  2013 SpierHead Pinot Noir Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Deep with colour, the juice for this Rosé soaks on the skins for two days. The depth of hue might suggest bigger flavours and sugars than its lighter Rosé cousins, but don't be fooled. There's still plenty of juicy acidity that cries out for warm weather or food - or both.

SpierHead's first vintage of Rosé in 2012 just happened to win Double Gold at the All Canadian Wine Awards. My guess - and hope - is that the 730 cases of Rosé made this year will disappear quickly and lead the powers that be to make the Rosé a regular part of the SpierHead portfolio.

The winery is located in the hills on the eastern side of Kelowna - not too far from a favourite of our's, Tantalus. Boo and I don't generally make it up that way during our Okanagan forays. I'm thinking that we need to make more of an effort.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Coast to Coast

I've previously written on the blog that I've heard great things about Nova Scotia's Benjamin Bridge winery - particularly that they produce some bubbly that is regularly considered to be in the running for Canada's best. The unfortunate thing for those of us out here on the West coast is that we don't see much of their wine here. Boo and I recently popped the cork on a bottle of their Méthode Classique Brut that I surprisingly found in a local store and we'd tried a bottle of Tidal Bay - a white blend - that a friend brought back for us when she visited the Maritimes. But other than that, their wines have been a rarity for me.

Accordingly, I was particularly happy to see that Edible Canada was hosting Benjamin Bridge wines at a dinner featuring Nova Scotian cuisine as part of their Coast to Coast series of winemaker dinners.

Miss Jaq joined Boo and I for the Granville Island trek and we were the happiest of campers.

1929.  2013 Benjamin Bridge Véro (Nova Scotia)

I hadn't heard of Véro before but it is one the winery's white blends and, for this 2013 vintage, was made of 60% Chardonnay, 30% L'Acadie and 10% Riesling. The winery website describes Véro as their "dry classic...inviting citrus aromatics and striking minerality." I had a tough time keeping it in my glass - which I guess is a good thing - but I was trying to make it last while I salivatingly nursed the Finnan Haddie & Chorizo Chowder that was served up.

We were told that it couldn't have been called a Maritime dinner unless a chowder formed part of the menu. I don't think I could have been happier. I'm a big fan of chowders but this was one of the most memorable soups I could recall having the pleasure of enjoying. Finan Haddie is apparently cold-smoked haddock but every single bite was worth savouring. Boo and I both commented on how wonderful it would be to try and recreate this dish for the Dinner Club. I would have seriously licked my bowl clean (and Miss Jaq's as well) if I'd thought I could get away with it.

The dinner also featured scallops with the Brut. Smoked Salmon was paired with the Tidal Bay - being a blend of L'Acadie Blanc and Ortega. Butter-poached lobster followed with a Brut Rosé that I would do any number of naughty deeds to get my hands on a bottle. The dinner was concluded with a deconstructed strawberry shortcake that was served with Nova 7, the winery's now iconic, slightly off-dry blend of (largely) Muscat varieties that is popular for its light spritz - à la Moscato d'Asti - and low alcohol (around 7%).

Again, good luck trying to find some of these wines in the Vancouver market.

The great thing about this dinner is that we were introduced to some fine East Coast cuisine and got the opportunity to try a much wider selection of Benjamin Bridge wines that I'd have ever hoped to - short of paying another visit to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the bad part is that I likely won't get a chance to try any of these wines again - unless I know someone's who's paying a visit to Nova Scotia.

One can always hope.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A New Wine to Hug

A short time back, the BC Wine Appreciation Association celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a Gala Tasting that featured just shy of 50 BC wineries from around the province. I'm told it was one of the (if not THE) biggest gatherings of BC wineries ever held. With that many participating wineries - and with most of them pouring four wines - there were far too many wines to taste them all.

I did my darnedest to hit as many tables as I could, but even a seasoned piker like me barely scratched the surface. Rather than simply concentrate on producers and wines that I'm very familiar with, I made a conscious effort to try some wines and regions that I didn't know so well. One hitherto unknown winery that particularly caught my attention was a new producer coming out of the Similkameen Valley: Hugging Tree. I had an interesting chat with two of the winery principals about their location and organic approach to viticulture.

I ended up ordering three of the wines that they served up.

1928.  2013 Hugging Tree Rosé (Similkameen Valley)

Now that I have the wines in hand, I opted to go with the Rosé as the first to knock back. Made from Merlot and Cab Sauv juice, there's a good shot of fruit on the palate, with strawberry and tree fruit up front and evident. That profile might not be too surprising since half of the Makepeace family's 60-acre property had already been planted with apples and peaches when they purchased it. The balance of the lands were raw and were planted with grapes - largely red Bordeaux varieties.

With summer just around the corner, I suspect I'll be pouring a healthy number of Rosés. I'll need to keep this one in mind. Too bad, there wasn't a lot of this vintage to go around - around 235 cases or so only.

It's a good thing that Boo and I like to drive along the Hope-Princeton Highway and through the Similkameen whenever we travel to the Okanagan. We'll likely be able to fit in a visit to the new tasting room on one of those forays. Hopefully, it will be sooner than later.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Chardonnay Even an ABC Drinker Should Love

Tight schedule or not, we made some time for another quick stop on the road home from the Half-Corked Marathon. Driving through the Similkameen Valley is one of my favourite parts of any trip to southern interior of the province and, more often than not, I'll plan for a visit at Orofino.

Tonight's bottle wasn't one that I picked up this time around but it appears that our holding onto the bottle did it absolutely no harm.

1927.  2010 Orofino Chardonnay (Similkameen Valley)

I'm hardly an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) drinker but I don't pull the cork on many Chardy's - at least not compared to other white wines like Riesling or blends. If all Chardonnays tasted like this one though, I'd be bona fide Chardophile.

The quick note that I made on Delectable went "Whoa, a Chardy to re-pour over and over again. Bottle just up and vanished. Rich, full and luscious."

I don't know that I can add a whole lot more than that. I've waxed eloquently   (or at least tried to) about Orofino many a time on this blog. John and Virginia Weber's take on their place in both the winemaking community - and the general community at large - is refreshing and, inevitably, tasty. From straw bale construction and sustainable practices to single vineyard wines and innovative winemaking approaches, I'm a fan.

I can't say that Orofino's Chardonnay is one that immediately pops into my head when I'm reflecting on their wines. That may have to change though because I definitely want more of this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unicus - Something Unique for the Okanagan

Boo and I didn't have a whole lot of time to visit wineries or wander around following yesterday's Half-Corked Marathon. Indeed, Mr. Cool and the Mimster left early in the morning to return back to Vancouver. We had enough time to make a couple stops and one of the wineries foremost on my wishlist was Culmina - the latest foray into BC wine by Don and Elaine Triggs, with their daughter Elaine joining the team this time around.

Part of the Half-Corked course took us alongside the new Culmina winery and vineyards but, unfortunately, except for a quick sip of their Rosé, there was no time for a visit during the race. I'd been lucky enough, however, to visit Culmina a couple of years ago when a small group of us from the BC Wine Appreciation Society met with Don to check out his new digs. Rather than reiterate myself (when I'm so far behind with my writing), I'll just add a link to that post where you can discover some of the inspiration behind the project.

1926.  2014 Culmina Family Estate - Unicus (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Back during that initial visit, one of the more intriguing announcements Don made was that they had planted a section of Grüner Veltliner, the white variety most closely associated with Austrian winemaking. Culmina's planting was the first for the Okanagan Valley but Don thought there was potential for the grape in BC. The winery produced a scant 60 cases of Grüner with its first vintage in 2013 and the team had hoped for a bigger production with the 2014 wine. While the harvest resulted in an increased volume of 285 cases, the winery quickly found out that they're still navigating a learning curve when it comes to the new grape. John Schreiner reported that Don thought they'd make an additional 40% in volume with the second vintage but the heatwave experienced in July throughout the Okanagan toughened and thickened the grape skins, thereby resulting in a troublesome press of the juice.

Access to the reduced volume wasn't helped by the fact that most of the production was earmarked for restaurants in the province. I was fortunate to be able to pick up a bottle at the winery.

That being said, I would never have guessed that the wine in my glass was Grüner Veltliner had I not already known. Not that I'm anything close to a seasoned pro when it comes to the variety. I did find that the acidity went on for days but, if anything, I thought the flavours were more reminiscent of a Sauv Blanc.

That high level of acidity is, no doubt, partly due to the fact that Culmina has planted the vines at a higher elevation than is seen in the lower part of the Okanagan Valley. As you can see, the vineyard is quite a bit higher than the rest of the winery's property - and the rest of the Golden Mile's plantings for that matter.

It will be interesting to see where the wine goes down the road. The 2014 vintage was aged completely in stainless steel casks but the winery is planning to perform a little experiment with the upcoming year's fruit. Don and winemaker, Pascal Madevon, plan to mature the wine in three different vessels - a stainless steel tank, a concrete egg and a concrete amphora. The intent is to age equal amounts of the wine in each of the three containers and see what impact the various vessels might have on the wine.

I'd love to be one of the lucky folks who get to taste the results before any final blending.

That next vintage is some ways off in the distance. In the mean time, I've got another 75 wines to go before I hit the 2001st bottle in my own little odyssey.